There's an eleventh-century French epic poem called The Song of Roland, and it turns out that Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien was heavily influenced by it. The titular character bears striking similarities to Boromir, the sword Anduril was based on Roland's sword Durendal, and - this is the topic of today's post - both feature an animal called an oliphaunt, which in the books was basically a larger elephant. Oliphant was actually an obscure twelfth-century variant spelling of elephant borrowed from Old French olifant, which could refer to elephants, ivory, or horns made out of ivory. That comes from Latin elephantus, which is from Greek elephas, meaning both "ivory" and "elephant". Finally, that's thought to be non-Indo-European in origin, and etymologies have been proposed from Phoenecian to Berber and Egyptian.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a rising junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.